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$171.3M investment recommended for expanding career and tech centers

Local state legislators toured the James Valley Career and Technology Center on Tuesday, Nov. 29, and listened to concerns on how the holdup of federal funds is delaying a planned project of the Career and Technology Center that targets workforce needs.

Local Legislators tour JVCTC 11292022.jpg
Local legislators tour the James Valley Career and Technology Center on Tuesday, Nov. 29, and listened to concerns of Jamestown Public School District officials on how the holdup of federal funds is delaying a planned project of the Career and Technology Center that targets workforce needs. Pictured, from left, are Rob Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools; Sen. Cole Conley, R-Jamestown; Rep. Mitch Ostlie, R-Jamestown; Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier; Darby Heinert, assistant director of the James Valley Career and Technology Center, and Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown.
Masaki Ova / The Jamestown Sun
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JAMESTOWN – The North Dakota Workforce Development Council is recommending the state Legislature invest $171.3 million for funding operations and programming of new and expanding career and technology centers and career and technical education programming.

Sen. Cole Conley, R-Jamestown, and Reps. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, and Bernie Satrom and Mitch Ostlie, both R-Jamestown, toured the James Valley Career and Technology Center on Tuesday, Nov. 29. Jamestown High School Principal Adam Gehlhar said the Jamestown Public School District invited the local legislators to talk about the needs of the James Valley Career and Technology Center and other area career and technology centers.

In the state Workforce Development Council’s report of recommendations, the top priority is to find or secure $171.3 million in funding. The funding includes $23 million for new and expanding programs and one-time requests of over $88.2 million for the continuation of new and expanding career and technical education centers, $40 million for the impact of inflation and another $20 million for career and technical education centers not approved in 2021-23.

The Workforce Development Council’s second priority is for the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education to create and train a minimum of 16 work-based learning coordinators to support students attending career and technology centers. Gehlhar said the school district did a pilot program with a work-based learning coordinator.

“Just employing someone 10 hours a week, we were able to triple the amount of relationships we have in the community and quadruple the number of work co-ops with kids playing,” he said. “So having 16 of those full-time work-based learning coordinators to build those relationships in the business community gets kids placed and gives kids feedback on the job and gets employers involved in building those relationships and keeping kids in our community doing those jobs.”

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A holdup on federal funds being released is delaying a planned project of the James Valley Career and Technology Center that targets workforce needs. The project includes an addition of a 7,000-square-foot addition to the south of the existing Career and Technology Center. Plans also call for the renovation of some existing space within the center and the establishment of an accessible greenhouse for the agricultural trades program.

Preliminary plans called for the James Valley Career and Technology Center to hold a groundbreaking on its project this summer. The estimated cost of the project has increased from about $1.6 million to more than $2 million, Gehlhar said.

“We’ve been waiting so long for these funds to be released that we have to now ask for the second piece, which is the inflation piece because we’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting and these funds haven’t been released to us,” said Rob Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools.

The North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education submitted a grant plan to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, said Wayde Sick, state director of the department, in October. The purpose of the Coronavirus Career and Technical Education Capital Projects Grant is to provide funding as a resource for school districts to increase access to career and technical education opportunities through the establishment of additional career and technology centers and facilities.

The Career and Technical Education Capital Projects fund is a grant opportunity provided by the North Dakota Legislature, according to the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education's website. The source of the funds is a combination of $20 million of America Recovery Plan Act funds and more than $68 million of the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund.

A portion of the funds – $45 million – was disbursed for broadband improvements, but the Treasury Department has not released dollars for the career and technical education portion, Sick said in October. He said the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education received $20 million of the American Recovery Plan Act funds that have been granted for some projects. He said at the time that the U.S. Department of the Treasury was still reviewing the career and technical education portion for the funding.

The James Valley Career and Technology Center was awarded an $800,000 grant from the Career and Technical Education Capital Projects Fund. The grant is matched by a combination of funds from the Jamestown Public School District’s contribution from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp., James Valley Career and Technology Center and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006. Gehlhar said some local companies also contributed toward the grant as well.

“Many of the centers are relying on district contributions which are tied to ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund) dollars and local companies who said, yeah we want to be a part of this, but they have timelines to work on too if they were looking to get that as write off for a certain tax year,” he said. “It’s complicated things, the feds holding up this money.”

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Lech said if the state Legislature approves the $171.3 million request, it would be “backfilled” when federal funding is released to the state.

“It would just be getting that money to (career and technical education) centers rather than asking us to wait another two years or however long it takes to release those funds,” he said.

Headland said if the state of North Dakota has the funds and can’t get a decision at the federal level, part of the danger is the state has to either spend the funds that were dispersed for broadband improvements or lose them.

“Those broadband dollars that we dedicated a certain amount for, I thought they were here, deposited and the limitation was laid down at the federal level that we could not use those dollars for these particular things (career and technical education projects),” he said.

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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